Ladies and gentlemen and colleagues, I call the meeting to order.
I welcome our panellists. For committee members, I should probably, in the spirit of transparency, let everyone know that Debra Button and I are old friends. Second, I have a long-standing and very cordial relationship with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. I promise I won't let those two relationships interfere with my duties. Mr. Lafleur, just to make you feel at ease, although we have never met, my father was the former head of the United Steelworkers of America, so I have quite an extensive union background as well.
Welcome to you all. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the minister responsible for Canada Post, the has engaged and initiated a very extensive consultation process that had two phases to it. Phase one was the establishment of a task force whose job and mandate it was to examine the financial viability and sustainability of Canada Post. They have completed their work. They have tabled their report, and we've had an opportunity as a committee to question them on their work.
Phase two, however, is why we're here today. We have engaged in a cross-country tour speaking with individuals, organizations, municipalities, first nations people, communities both urban and rural, and remote communities across Canada. We've been asking the participants in this consultation to give us their views on the future of Canada Post, and more specifically, to give recommendations and suggestions on how Canada Post can improve both its services and its financial viability going forward. That's why we have invited you here today to participate.
The process is quite simple. We'll ask each of the presenters to open with a brief statement of five minutes or less. I'll try to keep you to that as well as I can. Following your opening statements, we'll have a round of questions from every committee member, and then your comments and your testimony will form part of our final report.
With that brief word of opening, we'll start with Ms. Button, for five minutes or less, please.
You have the floor.
I want to say that I would rather think we were long-time friends. Nothing “old” for ladies, thank you, and please put that on the record.
Good afternoon. I am Debra Button, mayor of the City of Weyburn and president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.
I am here today on behalf of SUMA, representing 444 urban government members. These cities, towns, villages, northern municipalities, and resort villages are home to more than 77% of Saskatchewan's population.
First, thank you to the committee for the chance to provide comments on the future of Canada Post.
The discussion paper makes it clear that the corporation is at a critical stage. The decisions before the Government of Canada and Canada Post are about ensuring the long-term sustainability of mail service.
My colleagues in urban governments are plenty familiar with the challenges of delivering services to the residents of this province. We are responsible for a massive amount of infrastructure, from roads and bridges to water pipes and waste water systems, and for services from waste and recycling to recreation programming, all while working with limited revenue sources and being unable to run a deficit on our operational budget, so we certainly feel your pain.
Canada Post provides vital services to our local governments, residents, and businesses in every corner of Saskatchewan. SUMA members rely on Canada Post to deliver water samples to the provincial lab for testing; for delivery of property tax assessments, utility bills, and notices of bylaw contravention to residents; and to send and receive parcels and bring bill payments to our offices.
The task force report makes note of the nostalgia attached to the local post office for many Canadians. The post office is a local pillar that reflects the community's vibrancy. It's a place to keep in touch, whether running into your friends and neighbours in the office or sending a letter to those across the country or abroad.
However, the Internet and email make it relatively cheap and easy to get information and connect with friends and family. We carry these tools in our pockets. That doesn't mean Canada Post is irrelevant. There is still space for the services Canada Post has traditionally provided. It does mean, however, there are difficult decisions ahead. I'm certainly not an expert at operating a mail service, but I can offer you the perspective of Saskatchewan urban governments through SUMA.
Overall, SUMA is open to Canada Post changing operational practices to save corporate money, but we need you to maintain a high-quality mail service for our members and their residents. We believe this can be a win-win situation. As I said, local governments are familiar with managing assets such as buildings and the costs associated with maintaining these facilities. Canada Post and the government need to decide if the rural moratorium makes sense in the current business environment.
Urban municipalities want good postal service in our communities. How you deliver that service is the least of our concerns. Explore the option of shuttering assets and replacing with franchise locations. By and large, our residents are not as concerned if a post office is in its own building or if it sits in a corner of the local co-op, Northern store, pharmacy, or even the town office. They just want the Canada Post service they rely on.
This model is already in place in larger urban centres and appears to provide an excellent service to their residents. If mail volume is going down, including the ad mail that is making up the bulk of it right now, do we need to maintain daily delivery to households and community mailboxes? An alternate delivery schedule has potential savings of $75 million every year, and SUMA supports a pilot program to test this approach.
However, not every efficiency will work. Community mailboxes may be beneficial to Canada Post, but they won't work in every neighbourhood. In new developments, community mailboxes are built into the design, but the concept may not transfer into older areas. Canada Post needs to respect and work with local governments to determine the right place to locate community mailboxes in well-established neighbourhoods. We need to consider planning standards, private interests, public safety, parking, snow removal, and accessibility when choosing the sites for these community mailboxes.
Local governments know how to find alternate revenue sources, I assure you. We've been able to offset costs by selling advertising on transit buses, signage on hockey rink boards, and naming rights to community centres. Canada Post could take the same approach by advertising on fleet vehicles or store locations. Obviously Canada Post needs to be tasteful and protect the corporate brand, but Mosaic Stadium here in Regina and Crescent Point Place in Weyburn are just two examples of how you can make the most of what you already own.
As I said at the top, I'm here representing more than 77% of Saskatchewan's population. When people come to Saskatchewan, by and large they are choosing to live in urban centres—cities, towns, and villages.
Our communities provide access to high-speed Internet and wireless networks, but there is still a home for traditional mail and parcel services there. Urban Saskatchewan is where people post their mail and pick up parcels, and SUMA looks forward to engaging with Canada Post and the federal government as you make high-quality mail services efficient and effective. We are willing to work with and support you, because our communities have a vested interest in a sustainable postal system for Canada.
Thank you for the chance to speak with all of you today.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today.
My name is Carmen Sterling. I'm the vice-president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.
For those who are unfamiliar with us, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities—or SARM, as I'll refer to it—is the independent association that represents all 296 rural municipalities in Saskatchewan.
As the review and study of Canada Post continues, SARM wants to ensure that residents and businesses, including major resource sectors, receive adequate mail and parcel delivery service. Nearly 200,000 people live in Saskatchewan's rural municipalities. RMs are also the primary location for many sectors that drive Saskatchewan's economy, including agriculture, oil and gas, and mining. Hundreds of thousands more live in the rural settings of towns, villages, and resort villages.
Rural residents do not currently receive door-to-door mail and parcel delivery. SARM does not believe that door-to-door service is practical in rural Saskatchewan. Instead, rural residents should still be able to utilize central pickup locations. We also do not oppose the transition to community mailboxes in larger urban centres.
We do, however, strongly oppose the closure of any more walk-in post office locations in rural communities. It is also very important that decisions regarding the number of deliveries a week and the delivery days be made at the community level, as each community has different needs.
While many argue that the world is becoming more and more digital, marking postal delivery as obsolete, rural Saskatchewan continues to be challenged by insufficient broadband. Not only does this impact the decisions of residents and businesses to move to rural areas, but it also makes it very difficult for those in rural settings to rely on digital modes of communication. Mail delivery is therefore still a necessary medium of communication for rural residents and businesses.
SARM also wishes to highlight the fact that the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, a provincial crown corporation, plays a significant role in parcel delivery in rural Saskatchewan. However, financial losses have resulted in the cutting of many bus routes. This further reduces parcel delivery options for those in rural Saskatchewan. As such, we cannot afford to lose any more service in rural Saskatchewan.
Understanding the difficulties Canada Post faces, SARM is not opposed to transitioning some pieces of Canada Post to a privatized model, so long as it can be assured that contractors can provide services at a lower cost while also maintaining the integrity and security of the delivery system. We would also support banks and post offices partnering to share space in rural communities. Both play a vital role in creating vibrant rural communities.
Finally, SARM was also concerned to learn recently that date-stamping is no longer practised by all post offices. Instead, some post offices have the technology to cancel stamps without the use of ink stamps. We have been told that these post offices will now only date-stamp mail when specifically asked to by the sender at the post office.
This is extremely problematic for municipal administrators and, presumably, many other organizations and businesses, as date stamps serve as verification that payments and other important documents were mailed before their deadlines. This ensures that discounts and penalties are charged to senders accordingly. SARM believes that it is very important for all post offices to resume the practice of date-stamping to ensure that municipalities and other businesses and organizations can verify when financial and other important payments or documents were mailed.
In closing, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities believes that Canada Post must maintain adequate service in rural Saskatchewan and that it must refrain from closing more walk-in post offices in rural Saskatchewan.
On behalf of SARM, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee.
My name is Donald Lafleur. I'm the vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. I'm also a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I'm a postal worker going back to 1977 and a member of the national executive board going back to 1989.
On behalf of the 3.3 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress, we thank you for the opportunity to provide our input into this review.
We believe there are two choices.
The first is to invest and take bold steps to leverage Canada Post's infrastructure to offer improved and new services. This choice strengthens our world-class postal system now and into the future.
The second is to cut services, charge more, and ditch the principle of universality. This choice means lower-quality services at higher costs. It threatens the viability of Canada Post and paves the way for more privatization.
The task force supports the second choice. Look at their options: eliminate home delivery, reduce delivery days, sell 800 outlets, close processing plants, charge user fees for home delivery, and scrap the uniform rate of postage.
Now you have a choice to make.
We urge you to reject all of these options. They're self-defeating. Fewer people will use Canada Post if services are less convenient and more expensive. It's a downward spiral that leads to privatization. That would be disaster.
Let's look at the facts.
Canada Post has made profits in 19 out of the past 21 years, for a total of over $1 billion in net profits. In the first two quarters of 2016, Canada Post made $45 million in profits.
The parcel delivery service is flourishing. From 2011 to 2015, the number of parcels delivered by Canada Post increased by 27%. The service is a growing source of revenue, and Canada Post could increase its market share in the future.
Since the Canada Post Corporation is making considerable profits and its parcel delivery sector is growing, it cannot justify a service reduction. We encourage you to recommend that door-to-door service be restored to the 830,000 households that were denied the service during the conservative government era.
Don't misunderstand me. We aren't arguing that Canada Post should spin its wheels. On the contrary, we believe there are excellent opportunities to invest in Canada Post, diversify its services and increase its revenue. We're encouraging you to make that choice.
Our written submission has lots of suggestions. I want to highlight two.
The first suggestion is postal banking. Postal banks exist in 60 countries, including ones with well-established banking markets. They're contributing to the profits of postal systems. Canadians are not served well by the big five banks, who are raising fees and reducing services. A postal bank can improve access and offer lower fees. It would be useful in the rural and aboriginal communities that the chartered banks aren't serving. It would be an alternative to payday lenders who charge rip-off interest rates that should be illegal.
Over 600 municipalities endorse postal banking. Research commissioned by the task force suggests that 7% of Canadians would certainly use postal banking, and 22% would probably use it. That's a large customer base to start with. Canada Post's own research says they could profitably launch the largest banking network in the country. It's time to think big. We urge you to recommend postal banking as a viable option for the future for Canada Post.
A second opportunity is the government's commitment to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy. Canada Post infrastructure can play a role in this transition and generate new revenue. For example, charging stations for electric vehicles can be added to every post office. In this area Canada is way behind other countries, including smaller countries like Norway. We need to catch up. Canada Post can help the transition to greener transport while raising new revenues. We urge you to make recommendations that will maximize the enormous capacity and potential of Canada Post to diversify its services.
Lastly, I want to address the pension issue.
The financial condition of the pension plan is improving considerably. In 2015, the going-concern surplus was $1.2 billion. This represents an improvement from 2014, when the surplus was $500 million. In the meantime, the solvency deficit dropped from $6.8 billion in 2014 to $6.2 billion in 2015. These two trends are encouraging.
However, the most accurate measure of the pension plan's sustainability is the going-concern surplus of $1.2 billion. This represents the current costs for Canada Post. Based on this measure, the plan is healthy.
Problems are being caused by the solvency funding rules. The rules are unnecessary and counterproductive. They were established in the 1980s to protect employees and their pensions from the insolvencies of employers and of the private sector. It's not wise to apply these rules to Canada Post. There's very little risk of our public postal operator going bankrupt in the near future.
In addition, the rules in question divert a large amount of revenue away from business priorities for investment. There's no reason to apply very costly solvency rules to a public sector entity whose pension plan has a considerable going-concern surplus.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the floor.
Thank you very much for coming today.
It's interesting to hear the different perspectives of rural Canadians and urban Canadians on the way they use their postal service and opportunities for additional revenue.
As you know, we've been tasked with growing the economy, protecting middle-class jobs, and ensuring that people have access, in the case of Canada Post, to a high level of service at a sustainable cost.
With respect to additional services that might be offered through Canada Post, the rural municipalities say that they would like to see partnerships with banks. When we hear from the urban ones, it's not something we've been hearing very often.
Can you speak a little bit about the appetite of your members for postal banking and whether there's some dividing line among smaller urban municipalities at which you feel they could probably use a banking service offered through the post office?
For clarity, I think what SUMA is referring to is a little bit more about actual post offices being in banks. I'm not necessarily sure it was a postal banking proposal, because there are a number of different credit unions and big banks around a number of smaller communities.
With respect to postal banking, the association looked at the task force report rationale, both pros and cons, for postal banking. I'm not sure SUMA's in the best position to be providing commentary on the benefits of it, but just in terms of what was shared within the task force report, I would question the validity of postal banking within Canada. We have some of the best banks in the world, and they're located throughout different communities.
There's more than just the big banks, however; there's a multitude of credit unions around Saskatchewan that are just as successful as well. I'm not sure that introducing another banking mechanism into our current market is something that is in the best interests of residents.
If it means saving Canada Post—
There may not be particularly for postal banking, but I'm not sure that we can comment on what our members' and our residents' appetite would be for the actual mechanism of postal banking.
The reference to banks and postal services partnering, from our submission, is that in many cases banks are struggling with being able to staff full time or to justify the expense of having a branch that's open full-time, regular hours in some of these smaller communities. Having the ability to partner on some of those expenses, those shared spaces...maybe they can align their opening hours and that type of thing to be able to provide a service.
We think banks are probably a service that has been reduced in our smaller communities. Most of the service that our members receive for postal or banking services is in those small urban areas that are represented by SUMA.
In the case of our residents, our hamlets would be very small and likely wouldn't have either of those services, so we'd be looking to endorse those smaller communities under the SUMA organization to support their having those types of facilities and keeping those post office and bank relationships. There may be other businesses they can partner with as well that already exist in these small areas.
Unfortunately, I can't comment as to specifically what the appetite would be for postal banking.
Thanks for joining us today.
It's wonderful to be in Regina. I have a long family history here. My uncle served here for part of the war before he headed overseas, training pilots out of Regina.
Ms. Button, thanks for your comments.
We've been hearing mixed messages about the amount of consultation Canada Post has done with communities. I think you're from Weyburn, but we're heard from communities saying that they've heard nothing, and then later we get a whole stack of information showing that they had been quite roundly consulted.
Can you let us know how the consultation process with Canada Post was with you?
When we initially started to hear that there may be changes, Doug Jones approached SUMA, and then again came to Weyburn and approached us as well. He spoke with our city mayors' caucus around the issue of Canada Post and the changes. Then we were approached in Weyburn by two gentlemen—and I'm sorry, but I don't recall their names—and they started the process of the community mailboxes for us.
Actually, it was a nice smooth process. We had a lot of give and take and discussion back and forth. We received a big binder just after the federal election, or just prior to that, showing where those community mailboxes were going to be located in Weyburn. We were in the process of going back and forth to say this one's good, this one's not going to work, and this one's okay.
I have to say that overall we were quite pleased with the interaction and co-operation we were getting from Canada Post.
Okay. Ms. Sterling, thanks for your comments.
I just want to check this with you, because we've heard very clearly across the country that Canada Post means different things depending on where you are.
In the big cities, Canada Post is just the local Shoppers Drug Mart, but out in the rural areas, it is a community hub and it's a lot more important.
One of the things we've been hearing from the smaller communities, but also on the task force, is to look at the 700 or so Canada Post-owned post offices in the big cities and turn those over to the private area, with the money saved being used to help preserve and expand Canada Post in the rural areas, where it means a lot more.
Do you think your organization believes this is a good, valid idea?
Generally talking about services, definitely we would be opposed to closures of more post offices. If anybody thinks that the government's closing of urban post offices would not be followed by closures—that have already been happening for years, as a matter of fact—of rural post offices, in my opinion that person is dreaming in Technicolor, because one will lead to the other.
The same goes for door-to-door delivery. I talked a bit about it here. We're for bringing back door-to-door delivery. Letter carriers and rural mail carriers are the face of the post office. It's not just a service issue; it's a financial viability issue.
When the customers see us coming to the door, they talk to us and they use the services. When we're delivering to super-mailboxes, they see the UPS person and the FedEx person come to their door, and we're no longer there. If we lose door-to-door delivery in cities, we're going to lose lot-line delivery in rural areas as well. Those are services.
Generally speaking, improved services would be at the top of the list, and also maintaining good jobs.
That's definitely true. Whether you're talking rural or urban areas, if you look at it from the perspective of official languages, every year the numbers show that service in both official languages is lacking in private outlets. Our members in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers who provide retail services tell us that most of the complaints they get from the customers are about the franchises down the street.
Let's just look at the jobs. Look at the jobs in the Shoppers Drug Marts: minimum wage, no pension, precarious work versus good-paying jobs with a pension, retirement, uniforms. I won't get into all the details. This has been happening for a few decades now.
That's good for the economy and that's good for society all across this country. We have enough precarious jobs out there. To this day, it's a major problem in Canada and many parts of the world. If you take away door-to-door delivery everywhere, that's another 8,000 jobs gone. That's 8,000 people in the future who will be in precarious work instead of good jobs. That is not good for the Canadian economy.
Thank you for all your input.
I was putting things into perspective, and I realized, Ms. Button, that the city of Regina has 145 square kilometres with a population of 221,000. That's what Wikipedia says. My riding—just my riding—is 14 square kilometres with a population of 221,000. I'm trying to see how we collectively can find solutions. It's not one size fits all. How do we find solutions that are good for the country, good for the economy of Regina, good for everyone?
First, how many of your residents used to have door-to-door delivery?
Thank you all once again for appearing. Your testimony has been extremely helpful. I would add, however, that should you have additional information that you think would be of benefit to our committee during our deliberations, I would invite you to submit that information directly to our clerk. You can get the coordinates from our clerk before you leave.
Since we will be tabling our report in Parliament probably during the last part of November or early December, should you have additional information you wish to provide to us, I would ask that you do that probably within the next 10 days to two weeks, at the outside, and if you do that, it would be very helpful and it would form part of our final report.
Once again, thank you for your testimony. It has been well received.
We will suspend for a few moments while we wait for our next group of witnesses to approach the table.
Thank you very much to our witnesses, our panellists. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy day to be with us this afternoon.
Hopefully all of you have been watching the first session. If you have, you know how things work around here. I'll just very quickly go over some of the procedures.
We're going to ask all of our organizations and speakers to limit their comments to five minutes or less. After your opening statements, we will go into a round of questions and answers with all of our committee members. It's been our experience that even if you don't get through all of your opening statements in the five minutes allotted to you, most of the information that we are able to gather comes out through the question-and-answer period. If I have to cut you off, I'll do so respectfully and gently, if I can, but don't worry, because I know that all of the points you wish to make will come out during the questions and answers.
With that brief introduction, we'll get going.
Mr. Nixon, we have you up first on our list. You have five minutes, sir. The floor is yours.
Thank you and good afternoon. Thank you to the committee for inviting us to appear this afternoon. It also happens to be International Credit Union Day across Canada.
My name is Keith Nixon. I'm the chief executive officer of Credit Union Central of Saskatchewan, also known as SaskCentral. I'm also a board member on the Canadian Credit Union Association. I'm joined here by Leslie Trobak, who is our manager of government relations for SaskCentral.
SaskCentral is a financial services co-operative providing research support, consulting services, and financial liquidity management for Saskatchewan's 46 credit unions. Our system manages combined total assets of over $21 billion in Saskatchewan. SaskCentral functions as a trade association on behalf of the province's credit unions and acts as a voice for credit unions on matters of common interest.
Here are a few quick credit union facts. In Saskatchewan, over 472,000 people are members of credit unions, and Saskatchewan credit unions employ nearly 3,500 employees across the province. Saskatchewan credit unions are important engines of economic growth in the province, and in 2015 we had nearly $15.9 billion in loans in consumer, agriculture, and commercial lending. In fact, Saskatchewan credit unions maintain 50% market share of the small and medium-sized enterprise market.
SaskCentral is affiliated with the Canadian Credit Union Association, also known as CCUA, which is the national trade association for 315 credit unions and caisses populaires operating in financial services to their owners and members across the country. Across Canada, 5.6 million Canadians trust a local credit union for their day-to-day banking needs. Collectively, credit unions employ more than 27,000 people and manage over $188 billion in assets, and they contribute over $6.5 billion directly and indirectly to Canada's GDP.
As financial co-operatives, credit unions are a very different kind of financial institution. Unlike chartered banks, co-operative credit unions are not motivated by profit maximization but focus on the benefit of their members and their local community. In fact, concern for community is one of the seven internationally agreed co-operative principles that credit unions adhere to. This involves a commitment to the sustainable development of communities through policies approved by their members. Saskatchewan credit unions are continually demonstrating that they are helping communities prosper.
As an example, 10 Saskatchewan credit unions have been partners with the Government of Saskatchewan and Westcap Management Limited in the construction of 1,500 affordable housing units in the province. Credit unions work with community-based groups to offer financial literacy programming. Some credit unions have long-term capital commitments in Saskatchewan communities, such as rinks, recreation centres, and parks. Other credit unions have special loans programs for low-income persons, people with disabilities, and people with little or no credit history.
Across Canada, our co-operative commitments translate into a variety of different practices, such as providing preferential rates, no-fee and low-fee account services, and providing branches and service outlets in underserved areas in rural and remote Canada. In fact, credit unions are the only banking service providers in 380 communities across Canada, and in Saskatchewan, credit unions are the only financial institution in 132 communities.
With regard to the Canada Post review, while credit unions are regular users of the mail and parcel services offered by Canada Post, the main reason we're here making this presentation is to address the ongoing public debate concerning Canada Post's potential entry into the financial services industry.
At a time when online banking and financial technology are rapidly expanding the availability of financial services, credit unions in Saskatchewan and across Canada are working to compete on a variety of platforms.
We are aware that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is promoting the entry of Canada Post into postal banking as a means to increase revenues, offset losses in core business areas, and presumably maintain jobs at Canada Post. Other advocates of postal banking are focusing on delivery of financial services to under-banked rural and remote regions and aboriginal and low-income communities, while at the same time providing alternatives to payday loan providers.
However, given the rapidly evolving financial services sector, we believe a postal bank would face a challenging time competing for business in a crowded, well-served, and innovative banking market.
That said, we are concerned there could be a number of negative, unintended consequences accompanying the entrance of a postal bank into the market. The funding advantage for a crown financial institution could tilt the playing field in the crown's favour by granting it pricing advantages over private sector institutions such as banks and credit unions. Unfair competition with another crown corporation could force banks and credit unions to pull back service delivery in markets where pricing is already highly competitive or where margins are very thin.
Finally, if the experience of current crown financial institutions is any guide, it is also likely that a postal bank will face fewer legislative and regulatory pressures in comparison to those faced by banks and credit unions. For example, Farm Credit Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada, and Export Development Canada are not answerable to a prudential regulator. Furthermore, there are also very few statutory restrictions on the business powers and activities of these crown financial institutions. This is in contrast to credit unions and banks, which face significant restrictions on their business practices and are subject to ongoing prudential oversight and guidance.
Chair and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation here today.
I'm Holly Schick, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism, which is a provincial non-profit organization that brings together other seniors organizations to work together on various projects and on raising issues related to older adults.
We have 16 member organizations that collectively have a membership of approximately 100,000 older adults. The organizations are mostly provincial in nature and include such groups as the Superannuated Teachers of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Retirees Association, the National Association of Federal Retirees, and the Fédération des aînés fransaskois. We have a number of supporter organizations, such as the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. We also have a partnership agreement with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.
Our organization is currently working on creating age-friendly communities, addressing ageism in media, and reducing isolation of older adults. Current issue areas that we are looking at include home care, prescription drug costs, pensions, and reducing abuse of older adults.
I'll turn it over to Randy Dove, our vice-president.
Thank you, and thank you for this opportunity.
Certainly, from the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism's perspective, we wanted to ensure that we spent a moment just trying to provide some characterization of the older adults whom we serve in Saskatchewan. We certainly know from our members and from our feedback that older adults prefer to stay in their communities, stay in their homes as long as possible, and maintain their independence, and they look for and have varying needs for services, depending on where they choose to live.
They are in transition in terms of the use of electronic services. Not all older adults are computer illiterate. That isn't increasing as baby boomers move into that category. There are more people becoming more computer literate, but our elderly members and elderly older adults are less so these days.
We find older adults can become very isolated and vulnerable if their service access is limited. As far as mail delivery is concerned, this is an important service for all Canadians, especially older adults. We see mail delivery as a point of access, a way to connect, to communicate, and to access services to stay connected with family and the community they choose to live in.
Distance is an issue. We certainly support the concept of regular home delivery. Our members tell us that we could certainly consider the concept of home delivery that is less frequent than daily; however, access to community mailboxes is problematic in Saskatchewan, particularly in winter, when we have snow and icy conditions and people have difficulty getting to community mailboxes. We would ask the committee to consider that.
Service is better in urban centres. There are other issues in rural Saskatchewan that have different challenges. Transportation and access are issues in many small communities across the province.
We do see the role of Canada Post, particularly in rural Saskatchewan, as being part of a community hub, a notion for contact, a gathering spot, a place where people can come together in smaller communities particularly. They have over time almost become a community centre by default, because they are a destination for people to pick up their correspondence. The whole concept of community hubs, community development, and connections is part of the age-friendly concept, which is really a global movement that was started through the World Health Organization to create community inclusiveness and bring people together.
We have some questions, some concerns, some thoughts about northern access. Northern Saskatchewan does have limited or no traditional financial institutions, and there's insufficient electronic access in the north. Not all Canadians have embraced the concept of e-payments. People still look for paper cheques from time to time. We see Canada Post as potentially a catalyst for northern services for older adults.
The last thing we wanted to touch on just in passing, because we saw it in the task force material, was the whole issue of pensions. It is a key concern for the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism. We always will advocate for adequate income for older adults because it's directly linked to the quality of life. We think pension preservation is something that should remain a priority for both Canada Post and organizations in general. Older adults do rely on pension income as a key source to retain their independence and continue to contribute.
With that, I thank you very much for listening and for our opportunity to present.
I'd like to thank the committee for this opportunity on behalf of the people with disabilities in this province for being consulted about the importance of the current postal service and the impact the potential changes have on Canada Post.
Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities is a community-based organization that promotes inclusion and addresses concerns affecting the lives of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have had to adapt, modify, and overcome adversity throughout their lives, whether they were born with a disability or acquired it through an injury or illness. Attitudinal, social, economic, or systemic barriers are experienced on a daily basis. It's not uncommon, nor is it a surprise, to experience discrimination or exclusion in communities based on such barriers.
I've had the privilege to learn from individuals with disabilities who have struggled and overcome adversities and continue to thrive. Unfortunately, a substantial number of people with disabilities are overwhelmed and have lost hope. These are the people we serve.
Our organization continues to support persons with disabilities because we believe it is a fundamental right for every citizen to participate and contribute to community life. Whether a disability is prolonged, enduring, or short term, individuals should not have to continually adapt to the environment, as has always been expected in society. Strides have been made in the areas of accessibility and inclusion; however, in our opinion, we still have a long way to go in this country. Status quo is not an option, nor is exclusivity when we are discussing public services.
This brings me to the issue of potential cost-cutting measures with postal delivery.
The potential changes to door-to-door mail delivery will negatively impact persons with disabilities and become additional barriers in the lives of many in Saskatchewan. We, as an advocacy agency, do not support a model of community mailbox postal delivery. There are no benefits for persons with disabilities. They face imminent risks on a daily basis. They fear for their personal safety. Having community mailbox locations away from their home and safe environment, where they would have to travel by vehicle or other means, puts people at a greater risk of harm or violence. This would be a detriment to their safety and well-being.
With the inclement weather conditions in Saskatchewan, streets and roadways often become impassable, blocked, or unsafe to drive or walk. This increases the potential risk of personal injury. We promote an independent lifestyle for persons with disabilities. Potentially relying on someone to retrieve their mail will put a person at risk for other forms of abuse, such as identity theft or financial abuse.
Not all citizens live a comfortable lifestyle, with income levels that support an ideal quality of life. They depend on food security programs to eat and live in substandard housing because this is what they can afford, and most often in unsafe neighbourhoods. Persons with disabilities sometimes are limited in improving their circumstances due to limited resources. Therefore, adding another barrier relating to postal delivery creates undue hardships, hardships that are preventable.
With regard to the possibility of addressing options for mail delivery for persons with disabilities, we understand there have been suggestions for a system under which individuals would have to meet criteria to qualify for such a service. This is unacceptable. To expect a person with a significant or enduring disability to prove they are disabled is undignified, not to mention the financial constraints it will cause. This potential solution merits further discussion to be acceptable for the disability community and for individuals with disabilities.
The potential proposal to end door-to-door mail delivery would reduce access to postal service in general, and it would become inaccessible for a large percentage of the population. This percentage is growing, not diminishing. In our aging population, one out of two Canadians will report a level of disability. This is cause for concern for all programs and services. To assume all citizens can afford adaptive technology or communication services to access postal services is unrealistic. The people we serve go without these supports because of the additional cost factor.
In closing, we express our gratitude for having the opportunity to share our concerns. We're hopeful there is potential for inclusive, affordable solutions that are in the interests of all citizens of Canada.
Accessibility and inclusion were the focus of a recent discussion we had with the federal government, and it is the focus for this government to create communities that are accessible. The Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities supports these principles, based on a person-centred approach, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Thank you for your time.
I thank you for the question.
We are certainly very open to engaging with the government in terms of exploring partnership opportunities. We've had examples far back in our history of small-town credit unions and postal outlets even sharing locations, so I think that if there are opportunities to help each other out, this is something we'd be open to taking a look at.
I think the big challenge is that with the continuing development of technology, even our credit union physical locations are finding it a challenge to keep up with consumer behaviour. Branch traffic through the doors of a credit union branch in a small community has significantly declined as members look to other innovations, such as mobile banking, computer-accessible banking, and even mobile banking on smart phones and by other means.
In one of our credit unions we've recently introduced an innovative approach with a mobile advisory centre, literally a branch built on wheels, that travels to remote locations on a periodic basis to try to serve the underserved areas where permanent physical locations can be underused. We've had this service up in northern communities, in aboriginal communities, and in other areas where more of a part-time service is appropriate.
This is the kind of thing that we're trying out. We'd be happy to discuss those opportunities.
To the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities and the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism, when people talk about door-to-door delivery, community mailboxes, and single-point delivery in an apartment building, different people, when they come to speak with us, have different concepts in mind.
The task force report looks at five models of delivery. There is a general delivery and there is a rural route where people would have delivery to their mailbox at the end of their laneway or driveway. There would be a post office in a small hamlet or village, or in a small town. There would be community mailboxes, the super-mailboxes on the side of the road. The ground floor of apartment buildings will often have some place where the postie would leave the mail in individual boxes, and then, of course, there is actual to-your-door service.
When we talk about these, which of them do you consider sufficiently good service, and which of them do you consider to be not what is wanted when we talk about getting rid of something or reverting back to door-to-door delivery? Which of these levels of service are you speaking about?
It very much depends on the community. In urban centres, door-to-door delivery is very important to many people. In rural communities, having service within the community somewhere is really important.
In a rural community, often many people will know who their neighbours are and they can get someone to pick up their mail for them, so it's not as important to have that door-to-door kind of delivery. However, transportation is a big issue for rural older adults, so anything that means people have to go outside of their immediate community is difficult.
In urban centres, it's much more difficult to have someone go and pick up your mail for you because you don't necessarily have family or close friends who are your immediate neighbours, and you don't necessarily know your neighbours that well.
I live in an apartment-style condo, and it's quite adequate that our mailboxes are on the main floor of the building, and we get our mail that way. That works very well for people.
It really depends on the size of the community and the situation.
Mr. Whalen: So you consider—
Hello everyone. Thank you for being with us today in the wonderful city of Regina.
I'll begin with you, Mr. Nixon.
I'll start with a short introduction, and then I'll ask you three questions.
There are two models that will ensure Canada Post's survival. There are two different paradigms to make it sustainable. These two models were presented by various witnesses over the past few days and weeks.
According to the first model suggested, for Canada Post to survive in the long term, its services need to be reduced and its infrastructure needs to be consolidated to ensure its profitability.
According to the other model or business plan, the crown corporation must expand its range of services, for example by launching a postal bank or taking care of passport applications.
Which model or paradigm should Canada Post adopt? You're the chief executive officer of a large financial institution. Surely you must know a great deal about the model that will best ensure the survival of the great institution of Canada Post.
On the two paradigms, that is a very familiar set of paradigm questions that apply to the credit union system and to financial services, so we have that in common with Canada Post.
It really comes down to physical delivery models that have built up over a period of history, and now moving to different methods and different access channels through the use of technology and other approaches. In small towns, we face the same challenges of whether to reduce services to the point of closing the door or of finding other methods of addressing those same services.
It's not exclusively a matter of expanding the business and getting into other lines of business that might not be core to the business of the entity. We stay quite carefully focused on providing financial services, and we look at augmenting that activity based on the needs of the members in the communities. Our biggest channel is to develop different methods as demanded by consumers in terms of access to that channel.
That would be my main focus or suggestion: to think about the different ways and means, and to think about innovation in how the services can be provided.
If I draw on the experience of credit union services, I can point to the change in our infrastructure as a credit union system.
In the past 15 years, say, the number of credit unions across Canada has declined from something like 1,000 or 900 down to 300. At the same time, they have continued to grow in terms of membership, as well as in terms of business volume, deposits, loans, and these types of things. The financial services activity is growing, but the number of credit unions and the physical infrastructure are changing.
Underneath those 300 credit unions, there are many branches and locations involved, but there are also the innovations in technology that people often forget about—mobile banking, the smart phone applications, and all these different ways of providing services through the innovations of technology. The physical infrastructure that has been built in the past is now changing because of disruptive technology in how we can provide the services.
As I mentioned in my introduction, we have recently been engaged in consultations with the Government of Canada on what accessibility inclusion looks like, primarily for the disability community and persons with disabilities.
We have a significant concern when it comes to accessibility. Accessibility means different things to different people, since there are different levels of accessibility, and being able to contribute in a way that makes someone feel like a valued citizen is important for folks.
The nature of the discussions is positive, I would think, and in having access to postal service, we have to talk about accessibility and what that looks like for all citizens of Canada. Rather than excluding the disability community, we need to engage the disability community and folks to find solutions that are acceptable and adequate. Public services are important for all people, and we need to continue to hear the voices of people who would be impacted by changes. Those significant changes in public services—primarily we're talking today about postal services—greatly impact people and their quality of life. We will continue to have that dialogue, and we're open to opportunities such as this to do so.
Great. Thanks a lot, and thanks again for your advocacy.
Mr. Nixon, congratulations on International Credit Union Day. We had Desjardins earlier, and they commented about your credit union system as well as Coast Capital, whom I used to deal with, and so congratulations.
We talked a lot about postal banking. I just want to get some feedback.
Some parties have presented it as a panacea to fix all that ails you financially. One question was if they would be going to do mortgages and securities, but it was, no, no, we'll just cash cheques.
In your opinion, could you make enough money out of a stand-alone outlet to justify all the capital, add-on trade, and cash you'd have to have on hand, and infrastructure set-up, staffing, etc., to overcome hundreds of millions of dollars in potential profit loss down the road for Canada Post just by doing simple banking services?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Just to continue on that line, we've heard some interesting testimony about the history of postal banking with Canada Post.
Mr. Nixon, can you tell us what you know about it and about the fact that postal banking, up until it was discontinued in 1968, was actually quite profitable? What's the main difference? Why would it not be profitable now?
In fact, in your presentation you were concerned about unfair competition, so you're not afraid that it's going to be unprofitable; it's more that they'll succeed too well and impede the private sector.
I want to thank you all for your presence here today. Your testimony was excellent.
I would give you the same invitation I've given to all of our panellists: should you have additional information you would like to provide to our committee for our deliberations, you may do so by contacting our clerk directly and submitting your briefs to her.
We will be tabling a report in Parliament sometime towards the latter part of November. If you do have additional information you wish to submit, I'd ask you, please, to do so in the next 10 days or so. That would be extremely helpful.
The meeting is adjourned.